Chapter Eleven – Protecting the President
Wish me luck as I wave you goodbye, cheerio here I go on my way. Not a tear, but a cheer, make it gay (happy). Give me a smile that I can keep for a while ….
The Gracie Fields hit song of 1967 would have been a fond send-off to the Presidency of Nelson Mandela, as he stared at the pile of framed photographs on his desk.
There was a picture of him shaking hands with Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi and another with Palestinian Liberation Organisation chairman Yasser Arafat.
There was even a photograph of Mandela and F.W. de Klerk collecting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, for their efforts in turning South Africa into a democracy the peaceful way.
Despite their often-political differences, Mandela still held de Klerk in high regard. For all his party’s faults, at least de Klerk had the courage to close the book on Apartheid, while many of his predecessors only looked at what they could get out of such a situation.
Many of the Nationalists were like foreign investors. They wanted to contribute the least to gain the most.
Yes, 14 June 1999, was a day to remember as Mandela continued to pack up his office, which would now become the business home of his former 1st Vice President, Thabo Mbeki.
While well known internationally for his diplomacy, Mbeki was missing a few things that Mandela had. Firstly, Mbeki was not revered the way the world’s leaders came across to Mandela. Unlike Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison and gained international press coverage for his anti-Apartheid approach even though his photograph was not allowed to be published in South Africa, Mbeki was a man who had worked for the ANC’s cause while in exile.
Secondly and most importantly, Mbeki did not have an inner voice to guide him.
Despite being begged to stand for a second term of office as President, Mandela had decided that enough was enough.
Firecrackers, vuvuzelas, and music festivals had marked Mandela’s 80th birthday on 18 June 1998. Now, less than a year later, Mandela had decided to take a step back, although he would still avail himself for certain local and international speaking engagements.
Madiba, you have done your bit and more for your country and its people. Its now out of your hands.
“I gave it my best shot,” uttered the out-going President in response to the inner voice.
Indeed, he did. As much as he was admired by the world’s leaders, many of them showed great concern about his heavy workload and advised him to cut back where at all possible.
Four days away from his 57th birthday, Thabo Mbeki would soon find that he would have very big shoes to fill. Like Mandela, he too would be blamed for borrowing too much money that his country would struggle to pay back. In the eyes of many of his detractors, he was simply following a Nationalist route rather than empowering his own people.
Mbeki walked into Mandela’s office.
“Ah, Thabo, this is all yours from tomorrow,” smiled Mandela, as he pointed at the office.
“Madiba, I know you will always be one call away for me, you always were when you were able too,” replied Mbeki, dressed in his customary black suit.
“Always, Thabo, we owe it to our people,” said the former President.
Then he made a comment which Mbeki would struggle to understand.
“Thabo, have you ever felt that you had an inner voice to guide you?”
The new President did not understand.
“I mean we are both men who rely on logic but sometimes I get a feeling that there is something inside my spirit that tells me whether a decision is right or wrong,” went on Mandela.
Thabo took sat at the front of the President’s desk and lit up his pipe.
“I do believe that the Lord would not have brought us this far if it was not his will,” said Mbeki.
“I am not so sure about the voice inside the spirit, but maybe I will find out when I am seated on the other side of this desk tomorrow.”
Mandela tilted his head one way and then the other.
“It is the strangest thing, Thabo,” quipped Mandela.
“It is almost like someone has prophesied on my life and is warning me of the future. I must tell you that everything that this inner voice has told me since I became President, has happened, be it good or bad.”
I’m afraid, I won’t be able to help Thabo, but I am there for you, Madiba.
“Yes, I know,” said Mandela.
“You know what, Madiba?” inquired Mbeki.
“No, I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to the inner voice,” replied the President.
Mbeki stared at his long-time friend.
“I think you are tired, Madiba, you need some rest,” said Mbeki.
Tired he was, but Mandela had full confidence in the inner voice even if Mbeki thought that he was losing his mind.
“Give me some examples of what you have heard from the inner voice,” asked Mbeki.
Mandela cleared his throat as he was used to doing before making important statements.
Tell Thabo that the Arms Deal fiasco will get worse in the international press and questions will be asked about the potential financial kickbacks received by key ANC politicians.
Mandela relayed the message.
The comments were more than believable to Mbeki, but the Arms Deal had been in the news for quite sometime. He needed to know a bit more to believe that Mandela had a companion in his mind.
Defence Minister Joe Modise is battling with cancer and will succumb to the disease in 2001.
Mandela was fully aware of Modise’s battle with cancer, although he wasn’t sure if Mbeki knew about it. Once he told Mbeki about the revelation, he could see the result.
“I knew that Joe was struggling, but I was hoping that he would be healed as I know he is receiving medical treatment,” explained Mbeki.
“I understood his situation was actually improving.”
“By the grace of God, I hope Joe improves health-wise, but I can tell you that my inner voice has never let me down before,” said Madiba.
The inner voice would go on to be correct as the Defence Minister passed away from the disease on 26 November 2001.
Many insiders felt that much of the Arms Deal secrets may have accompanied him to the grave and again it brought up the issue of what Chris Hani was about to reveal about the Arms Deal before he was assassinated in 1993.
The Arms Deal matter would plague South Africa’s leaders for years to come, particularly when Mbeki’s successor, Jacob Zuma, was on the brink of signing a nuclear power deal with the Russians. However, Zuma was removed from office by the ANC executive before he could sign the contract.
Neither you nor Thabo will solve the Arms Deal issue, Madiba. Thabo needs to place his focus on the economy and health issues which will impact on South Africa.
By June 1999, the Rand had dropped form its 1998 mark of R4.98 to R6.39 to the US Dollar.
South Africans had been to the polls on 2 June 1999 with the ANC recording a mammoth 66.35% majority, but short of the two thirds mark to change the South African constitution.
Mbeki’s elevation to take over from Mandela as President had always been on the cards. However, just as the inner voice had told Mandela, the new No 1 would soon find himself facing challenges galore.
Many saw the major blooper of his career being his stance on HIV-Aids. Mbeki
“Does HIV cause AIDS?” Mbeki was later quoted as saying.
“Can a virus cause a syndrome? How? It can’t, because a syndrome is a group of diseases resulting from acquired immune deficiency.”
“I am sure it is in the medical textbooks, there are many things that cause immune deficiency and you will find therefore in the South African HIV and AIDS programme, that it will say that part of what we have got to do is to make sure that our health infrastructure, our health system is able to deal adequately with all of the illnesses that are a consequence of AIDS.”
Mbeki’s views on HIV and AIDS would see him being blamed for the deaths of over 330 000 South Africans during his Presidency.
“Thabo, you will find that you cannot find solutions to everyone’s problem but stick with your vision and don’t let others distract you,” advised Mandela.
Without the National Party in the government, the elections had become a one-horse race. Upon appointing Frank Chikane as the Director-General in the office of the President, it would be this Reverend who would give Mbeki his best piece of advice.
Chikane would later have his feet washed by Apartheid era Police Minister Adriaan Vlok, after the National Party man sent the Reverend, underwear which contained a deadly nerve substance.
After receiving amnesty for the act under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, peace was made between the two men.
However, it would be Chikane who warned Mbeki not to take the black voters for granted. With the ANC lagging on their promises of building houses and job creation, as well as making news headlines for corruption, Chikane’s words would stick.
If the ANC did not transform itself and return to its main purpose of carrying the hopes and dreams of its people, the party would first lose a metro, then a province and finally, national power. Chikane’s message was basically that you can fool some of the people, some of the time, but not all the people, all of the time.
Mbeki would also come in for major criticism in that he spent much time out of the country acting as a mediator for other nations or organisations, while South Africa’s problems kept mounting up.
The joke was: “How do you know when Thabo Mbeki is in South Africa?” The punchline being: “When his plane flies overhead.”
Madiba, Thabo needs to help ensure peace at all costs for the people of Zimbabwe, to ensure stability for Southern Africa.
Mandela and Mbeki had engaged long and hard on this issue, but the latter was ever the diplomat when dealing with the Robert Mugabe administration in Harare.
Mbeki would later be quoted as saying: “The point really about all this from our perspective has been that the critical role we should play is to assist the Zimbabweans to find each other, really to agree among themselves about the political, economic, social, other solutions that their country needs. We could have stepped aside from that task and then shouted, and that would be the end of our contribution …
“They would shout back at us and that would be the end of the story. I’m actually the only head of government that I know anywhere in the world who has actually gone to Zimbabwe and spoken publicly very critically of the things that they are doing.”
Mbeki and Mandela agreed that the road ahead was a long, difficult one for all race groups, but it was important for black and white to find each other. Land needed to be handed back to the rightful owners. This was a huge prickly pear-type decision as the coloureds believed that they were the first people in South Africa and the land belonged to them. The black-dominated ANC would see things differently. The white minority were still brainwashed into believing that the land belonged to them due to the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape in 1652, having been sent by the Dutch East India Company to build a refreshment station for ships rounding the most southern part of Africa.
Thabo needs to be strong as his main rivals might not be the Afrikaner, but internal.
As is the case anywhere in the world, the President’s office is viewed as a nice place to be. The perks are great.
The inner voice would be right again, when Mbeki removed his Vice President Jacob Zuma from office in 2005, due to the second-in-command’s involved in a corruption scandal.
The Mbeki-Zuma battle grew over the years, and despite being recalled from the President’s office by the ANC, for allegedly hampering the investigation into Zuma, Mbeki stood for a possible third term as ANC President at the party’s conference in Polokwane, Limpopo in 2007.
Mbeki would narrowly lose the vote to Zuma in Polokwane, with Zuma going on to be the party’s presidential candidate for the 2009 general elections.
Mandela was becoming more convinced that the inner voice was that of the girl who had saved his life on Robben Island in his days as a prisoner, when a General du Toit, had attempted to assassinate him.
“Lindiwe!” yelled Mandela, which caused Mbeki to sit back in his cheer at speed.
Finally, Mandela has got to the name of the girl.
“It’s a long story, Thabo, but let’s just say that I am not alone,” said the out-going President.
“I just wish I could transfer her spirit into yours so that you would have insight into the future.”
“How does this Lindiwe person know the future?” asked Mbeki.
“That is hard to tell,” remarked Mandela.
“Just believe me that she does.”
“I certainly hope that this Lindiwe is wrong about Joe Modise’s demise from cancer,” quipped Mbeki.
“I hope so too, Thabo, but the inner voice has not been wrong before,” replied Mandela, as he took in a sip of tea from a cup on his desk. The tea was ice cold as he had forgotten about it.
“We need to find a cure for our country’s problems,” muttered Mandela, as he put his teacup down on his desk.
“We cannot allow this beautiful country to descend into a banana republic after all we have been through. We need to raise leaders of credibility and for the constitution to be firm. The laws need to be applied consistently. Penalties handed down to blacks and whites need to be the same. People need to respect our police and other law enforcers, irrespective of the fact that the death penalty has been abolished.”
“Indeed, Madiba, we have the platform to create the leading first world country in Africa and a legacy for future generations,” replied Mbeki.
“This is why foreigners flock to our country because of the immense opportunities here,” said Mandela.
“We need to embrace entrepreneurship so that many of our people can be empowered to grow their own companies, as opposed to waiting for salaried jobs to come their way. The future is bright, Thabo, very bright. Our people must close their hand over the opportunity offered to them. If not, the opportunity will fall on to the floor and someone else will come along and take it from them. Our people need to be streetwise and focused.”